Dealing With Bailiffs

What if the bailiffs turn up? Dealing with bailiffs

The threat of bailiffs is a worrying thought. Our top ten tips on how to deal with bailiffs can help put your mind at ease.

Bailiffs in England & Wales are officially known as ‘enforcement agents’, however the general public still call them bailiffs.

aBailiffs and enforcement agents do not need to enter your home to take control of goods. The High Court has recently made this new ruling. Find out more about your rights. At present, home visits from sheriff officers in Scotland are on hold until further notice.

Ten tips to help deal with bailiffs

The number 1 most important tip is this: don’t ignore the situation. If you’ve got to the stage of bailiffs getting involved, things will only get worse if you ignore it. It’s never too late to get in touch with your creditor and offer a payment you can manage. We can help you with debt advice.

If you receive a visit from a bailiff, try to keep calm and don’t act aggressively - getting angry or attacking the bailiff will make things a lot worse, and could even result in you getting arrested.

If you’re expecting a visit from the bailiffs, keep your doors locked at all times and make sure everyone in the house – including children – knows not to open the door to someone they don’t know. Fit a door chain if you can (these only cost a couple of pounds) in case someone accidentally opens the door to a bailiff.

When a bailiff visits, don’t open the door to them. You can speak to them through the letterbox or from an upstairs window. You can ask them to return to their vehicle and speak to them there. If you do this, make sure you lock your door behind you. There are some situations when it can be best to let the bailiff in, but you must think very carefully before doing this, and we strongly recommend you don’t open the door to them unless you’ve had expert debt advice.

Always ask to see proof of ID and a copy of the warrant or writ. The bailiff can hold these up to a window or show you through the letterbox.

Keep all paperwork you get from a bailiff, and always get a receipt for any payments you make.

If a bailiff has made a list of your goods and asks you to sign a controlled goods agreement (This PDF is not suitable for screenreaders. If you need any help with reading its contents please contact us), you should do this. If you don’t sign it, they’re much more likely to take your goods straight away. If any goods listed aren’t yours, ask for them to be removed, or write ‘not mine’ next to the item.

If you sign a controlled goods agreement, make sure the payments you’re agreeing to make are realistic. If you miss payments because you can’t afford them, the bailiff may take your goods away.

You can hide goods in your house or take them somewhere else before a bailiff visits, but if you hide or remove goods after the bailiff has visited and listed them, you’re committing a criminal offence.

Cars are an easy target for bailiffs – they’re hard to hide and easy to sell. If they know you have a car, bailiffs will look hard for it, so park well away from your home, preferably in a locked garage. However, if the bailiff has already found your car and listed it, it’s too late and hiding it could be a criminal offence.

Bailiff powers when they visit your home


What you can do when a bailiff visits
How to complain about a bailiff
What you can do when a bailiff visits

A bailiff (‘enforcement agent’) may visit your home if you do not pay your debts - such as Council Tax bills, parking fines, court fines and county court, high court or family court judgments.

This will happen if you ignore letters saying that bailiffs will be used.

There are different kinds of bailiffs, known as:

  • ‘certificated enforcement agents’ (also known as ‘civil enforcement agents’)
  • ‘high court enforcement officers’
  • ‘county court and family court bailiffs’
  • bailiffs who enforce magistrates’ court fines and warrants for arrests (either ‘civilian enforcement officers’ or ‘Approved Enforcement Agents’)

A bailiff may also visit your home for other reasons, for example to serve court documents or give notices and summons.

An Approved Enforcement Agent can arrest you if there’s a warrant for your arrest for breaking a community penalty order.

Bailiffs must usually give you at least 7 days’ notice of their first visit.

There’s a different process in Scotland.

Pay what you owe before a bailiff visits

If you think a bailiff might visit you to collect debts, you can stop this by paying the money you owe. Get advice about how to pay your debt from whoever you owe money to as soon as possible.

Find out what to do if you have a debt that you cannot pay.

You might be arrested if you do not pay criminal debts, such as fines or penalty notices.

Dealing with bailiffs

You usually do not have to open your door to a bailiff or let them in.

Bailiffs cannot enter your home:

  • by force, for example by pushing past you
  • if only children under 16 or vulnerable people (with disabilities, for example) are present
  • between 9pm and 6am
  • through anything except the door

Bailiffs are allowed to force their way into your home to collect unpaid criminal fines, Income Tax or Stamp Duty, but only as a last resort.

If you do not let a bailiff in or agree to pay them:

  • they could take things from outside your home, for example your car
  • you could end up owing even more money

If you do let a bailiff in but do not pay them they may take some of your belongings. They could sell the items to pay debts and cover their fees.

You may be able to get extra time to make a payment or get debt advice if you’re a vulnerable person (for example, you have mental health problems or are seriously ill).

Check the bailiff’s identity

Before you let a bailiff in to take your things or pay them, ask to see:

  • proof of their identity, such as a badge, ID card or enforcement agent certificate
  • which company they’re from
  • a telephone contact number
  • a detailed breakdown of the amount owed

You can ask for proof of a bailiff’s identity and authorisation even if they’ve visited before - for example, ask them to put it through the letterbox or show it at the window.

All bailiffs must have a certificate unless they’re exempt or they’re with someone who does have a certificate.

Anyone who claims to be a bailiff when they are not is committing fraud.

To check a bailiff’s identity, find out what kind of bailiff they are from their proof of identity and then:

  • check the register of certificated bailiffs if they say they’re a certificated enforcement agent (contact the county court business centre if you have a question)
  • check the list if they say they’re a high court enforcement officer
  • contact the court that sent them if they say they’re a county court bailiff, family court bailiff or a civilian enforcement officer

If they say they’re an Approved Enforcement Agent, check they’re from one of the following companies:

  1. Compliant Data-Led Engagements & Resolutions (CDER) Group
  2. Marston Holdings Limited
  3. Excel Civil Enforcement Limited
  4. Swift Credit Services Limited
Paying a bailiff

You can pay the bailiff on the doorstep - you do not have to let them into your home.

Make sure you get a receipt to prove you’ve paid.

If you cannot pay all the money right away, speak to the bailiff about how you could pay the money back.

Offer to pay what you can afford in weekly or monthly payments.

The bailiff does not have to accept your offer.

What bailiffs can and cannot take

If you let a bailiff into your home, they may take some of your belongings to sell.

Bailiffs can take luxury items, for example a TV or games console.

They cannot take:

  • things you need, such as your clothes, cooker or fridge
  • work tools and equipment which together are worth less than £1,350
  • someone else’s belongings, such as your partner’s computer

You’ll have to prove that someone else’s goods do not belong to you.

What bailiffs can charge

How much you pay depends on your situation.

Negotiating your debt with bailiffs
This advice applies to England

You can stop bailiffs (also called 'enforcement agents') coming to your home to collect a debt you owe by paying the debt in full.

If you can't pay your debt in full there are other options you can take - these will depend on your budget and circumstances.

You can ask the bailiffs if you can:

  • pay most of your debt off in one go if you can afford most of it
  • set up a payment arrangement if you can afford small regular payments

Even if your offer is refused you should still try to pay. This can help make it easier to negotiate with the bailiffs because they can see that you want to pay.

Even if the bailiffs are already in your home it's not too late to pay them. This will stop them taking your belongings and you'II be able to avoid paying extra fees.

If the bailiffs come into your home and you can't afford to pay your debt you'll normally have to make a 'controlled goods agreement'. This means you'll agree to a repayment plan and pay some bailiffs fees. Read more about making a controlled goods agreement.

If you’re having problems with your debts contact your nearest Citizens Advice to find out how else you might be able to deal with the debt. Find out more about getting help with your debt.

Bailiffs have to give you extra time and support to deal with your debt if you’re vulnerable. Check the extra rules the bailiffs should follow if you:

  • are disabled or seriously ill
  • have mental health problems
  • have children or are pregnant
  • are under 18 or over 65
  • don't speak or read English well
  • are in a stressful situation like recent bereavement or unemployment
Paying most of the debt off

If you can’t pay your whole debt but can pay most of what you owe in one payment, call the bailiffs to ask them if they’II accept a reduced payment.

They might accept your offer because it gets the debt paid quicker, even if they don’t get all the money.

You can find the bailiff’s contact details in any letters they’ve sent you about the debt. Calling them is the quickest way to get in touch.

It’s best to pay by bank card or by cheque so you have a record. Also ask the bailiffs to send you a receipt when you pay - it’s important to get this in case you later need to prove you’ve paid.

Making a payment arrangement

You can offer to pay your debt off in regular weekly or monthly amounts instead of having to pay it all off at once.

You'II have a better chance of getting the bailiffs to accept your offer if it's realistic and affordable.

If you need help setting up a payment arrangement

Call the bailiffs to ask them to put your case on hold while you get advice from your nearest Citizens Advice. If they agree to put your case on hold - this will give you time to work out what you can pay.

They don’t have to agree to put your case on hold unless you’re vulnerable. Check how to prove you’re vulnerable.

Work out what you can afford to pay

Before making your offer work out what you can afford and create a budget sheet to show the money you have coming in and going out. For example, you might be able to pay £10 a month after paying your other essential costs such as food, rent, mortgage and energy bills.

Don’t offer to pay more than you can afford. You could make your situation worse if you can’t keep up with your payments. For example you might have to pay extra charges.

Also check if you can increase your income - this could help you clear your debt quicker. For example you might be able to increase your hours at work. You should also check if you’re getting all the benefits you’re entitled to.

Sending your information

Send the bailiffs your budget sheet with a short letter explaining why you can’t pay the debt in full. Ask to pay in weekly or monthly installments, depending on how you manage your money.

It’s also worth sending your information to the creditor - this is the person or organisation you owe the money to. Doing this can help get your offer accepted sooner because they’ve asked the bailiffs to collect the debt.

The bailiffs should have told you who your creditor is on a letter called a 'notice of enforcement'. Use the details to search online for their address. If your creditor is a company search on the Companies House website on GOV.UK.

Send your information by recorded delivery if you can or ask for a free proof of postage receipt. Keep a copy of your letter and any reply you get in case you need it later.

If you prefer you could send your information by email.

If the bailiffs agree to your payment offer ask them to send you a written agreement. Make sure both you and the bailiffs sign the agreement - this makes it clear what you’ve both agreed.

There are things you can still try to get your offer accepted.

Talk to your creditor

Call the creditor - the person or organisation you owe the debt to. Ask them to accept your offer instead. They might agree to do this to get the debt cleared quickly.

You can find your creditor's name on the 'notice of enforcement' letter the bailiffs should have sent you. Use the details to search online for their telephone number. It's best to call them as this is the quickest way of getting in touch.

Your creditor might ask you to send them your budget sheet to prove what you can afford.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you're worried about speaking to your creditor.

Keep paying anyway

If your creditor also refuses to accept your offer you should still try to pay your debt. It’s worth doing this because if they take further action against you, for example by going to court, you’II be able to prove you tried to pay.

You can get your creditor’s payment details from previous letters they’ve sent you.

If you haven’t got your creditor’s payment details you can write to them to try to get your offer accepted. Use their name to search for their address on the Companies House website on GOV.UK.

If your creditor returns your payments, save the money so you have it ready in case they later decide to accept your offer.

Apply to court if you have a county court or high court debt

If you have a county court or high court debt you have an extra option if your creditor refuses your payment offer. You can apply to court to ask them to decide what you should pay.

The letter that the bailiffs should have sent you about your debt will tell you if you have a county court or high court debt. You'II have a county court or high court debt if you had been taken to court by your creditor to try to get the debt paid.

When you apply to court your situation and budget will be looked at to decide what you can afford. As long as you pay the amount the court sets you won't have to deal with bailiffs any more.

You'II need to apply to court by filling in form N245 on GOV.UK for a county court debt and form N244 for a high court debt.

Explain in the form why you want your creditor to accept your offer and give details of your financial situation.

You'II usually have to pay a fee to apply to court. You might be able to get help with court fees if you're on a low income or claiming certain benefits.

Stopping bailiffs at your door
This advice applies to England

If a bailiff says they're evicting you instead of collecting a debt you'll need to get different advice.

Check what to do if a bailiff says they’re evicting you on Shelter’s website.

Coronavirus - if bailiffs come to your home

The bailiffs should send you a letter before they visit, to check if you’re more vulnerable because of coronavirus. If you’re vulnerable or self-isolating, they shouldn’t come to your home or try to make a payment arrangement with you. You can check if you’re classed as vulnerable if you’re not sure.

The bailiffs should ask you if anyone in your household is symptomatic, self-isolating or shielding. If your answer is yes, the bailiffs should stop their visit and leave. They shouldn’t try to get you to agree to any payments in this situation. You might be asked for proof - show the bailiff your email, phone message or letter from the NHS if you have one.

If bailiffs visited you when they shouldn’t have or didn’t follow the rules, you can complain about bailiffs.

Check if the bailiffs have to follow extra rules

The bailiffs should follow some extra rules if they’re collecting debt for:

  • your local council - for example council tax or a parking fine
  • court fines you owe
  • child maintenance

If the bailiffs are collecting any of these debts, you should tell them if you have less income because of coronavirus. They should consider your situation and help you make a payment arrangement you can afford.

If you already have a payment agreement, you can ask the bailiffs to let you pay less back each month. This means you’ll pay the debt back over a longer period of time.

If the bailiffs try to take your vehicle, they’ll be less likely to take it if you tell them you need it:

  • for work and you’re a critical worker - for example, if you work in health and social care
  • to give urgent transport to someone who’s ill

Bailiffs (also called ‘enforcement agents’) visiting your home can be a stressful experience but you have rights and you shouldn’t be bullied.

Bailiffs are only allowed to try to come into your home between 6am and 9pm.

You shouldn't let a bailiff into your home - it’s always best to try to sort out your debt by keeping them outside and speaking through the door or over the phone.

Make sure your doors are locked - bailiffs are allowed to come in through unlocked doors. If you have a porch with a lockable door you should lock this too.

Depending on the kind of debt you owe, the bailiff will sometimes have the right to force entry by asking a locksmith to open your door if you won’t let them in. It’s very unlikely they’ll do this - you should still have the chance to pay without them coming in.

Call 999 if you're being physically threatened by a bailiff - don't let them into your home.

Before you speak to a bailiff, check the extra rules they should follow if you:

  • are disabled or seriously ill
  • have mental health problems
  • have children or are pregnant
  • are under 18 or over 65
  • don’t speak or read English well
  • are in a stressful situation like recent bereavement or unemployment
Get proof of who they are

The first thing to do when a bailiff arrives is to ask for proof of who they are and why they’re visiting.

If they say they're a 'debt collector' tell them to leave. They don't have the same powers as bailiffs and they have to go if you ask them to.

If they say they’re a bailiff or enforcement agent, ask them to show you a badge, ID card or ‘enforcement agent certificate’. All registered bailiffs have to carry proof of who they are.

They’ll also need to tell you which company they’re from and give you a telephone contact number for the head office.

Tell them to pass the documents through your letterbox or show you at a window. Their proof of identity will show their name and what kind of bailiff they are.

To check their identity you should either:

  • check the certificated bailiffs register - if they say they’re a certificated enforcement agent
  • check the directory - if they say they’re a high court enforcement officer
  • contact the court that sent them - if they say they’re a county court bailiff, family court bailiff or a civilian enforcement officer

Tell them to leave if they can’t prove who they are. Say you’ll report them to the police if they don’t go. If they won’t leave you should call 999.

Check if the bailiff can force entry

The bailiff could have the right to force entry to your home or business if they’re collecting:

  • unpaid magistrates court fines, for example if you were given a fine for not paying your TV licence
  • tax debts for HM Revenue and Customs, for example if you owe income tax

They’ll need to show you proof of what you owe and a 'warrant' or a document called a ‘writ’ from a court. Check any documents are signed and in date and have your correct name and address.

They aren't allowed to break down your door - they have to use 'reasonable force'. This means they'll have to come back with a locksmith who will unlock the door.

It’s very unlikely they’ll do this - you’ll usually still have time to make an offer to sort out the debt.

It’s best to contact your local Citizens Advice for help if the bailiffs say they’re getting a locksmith to force entry to your home.

If you let the bailiff into your home

If you decide to let them in and you can’t afford to pay what you owe straight away you’ll normally have to make a 'controlled goods agreement'. This means you'll agree to a repayment plan and pay some bailiff fees.

If you don’t make an agreement the bailiffs could remove your things to sell and pay off your debt. Read more about what happens if bailiffs say they'll sell your belongings.

If the bailiff isn't allowed to force entry

If the bailiff is collecting any other kind of debt they aren't allowed to force entry.

This includes if they're collecting:

  • council tax arrears
  • credit card or catalogue debts
  • unpaid parking tickets
  • money you owe to energy or phone companies

You have the right to keep them outside and talk through the closed door. Make sure everyone else in your home knows not to let them in.

Ask for a full breakdown of the debt they’re collecting and who the ‘creditor’ is - this is the person or company they say you owe money to. Tell them to pass any documents through the letter-box or under the door.

Check that any documents they give you are still in date and have your correct name and address.

If it’s someone else’s debt, say you’ll contact the bailiff’s head office to explain and tell them to leave. Check how to prove it’s not your debt.

If it’s your debt, tell the bailiff to leave and say you’ll speak to their head office to make arrangements to pay.

The bailiff might say you have to pay them on the doorstep or you have to let them in - you don’t. They aren’t allowed to force their way into your home and they can’t bring a locksmith to help them get in.

They’ll normally leave if you refuse to let them in - but they’ll be back if you don’t arrange to pay your debt. It's important to do this as quickly as you can, otherwise the bailiffs can add fees to your debt.

You can complain if the bailiff won't leave and you think they're harassing you.

If you’ve broken a ‘controlled goods agreement’

You might get a letter called a 'notice of intention to re-enter' if you've broken a 'controlled goods agreement'. This means the bailiff has the right to enter your home using 'reasonable force'. They'll have to use a locksmith to unlock your door - they aren't allowed to break it down.

There could still be time to renegotiate your controlled goods agreement and stop the bailiffs from visiting - you should act quickly.